Elections in Egypt: I’d have preferred to get it wrong

The gate-keepers of (very) old networks of power in Egypt (Luxor, copyright by eviljohnius on flickr)

Do you know this bitter-sweet feeling of saying: “Told you so…”? You are somewhat proud of having predicted something correctly but deep in you heart you wish you had gotten it wrong. That’s how I feel when hearing the news from Egypt these days. I so wished to be contradicted by the way things unfolded. But I also see how powerful an understanding of social networks can be to predict a political course of events. And so we see that twitter and facebook are not the social networks with the strongest impact on who will rule Egypt in the future (just as I predicted about a year ago). And that the two most successful networking strategies are

    • Knock on every door (Muslim Brotherhood / Mohamed Morsi) and
    • Stay close to your influential friends (Ahmed Shafik)

Which is what the two leading candidates Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafik mastered perfectly. In my post from March this year I described in detail how I see these trategies working out for the Muslim Brotherhood, the established political class and the military. And, as I said above, the satifaction of “I had it right” is rather small as compared to the disappointment of “I had it right”.

And there are a number of questions that keep bothering me: What is there to learn from this for the revolutionary masses on twitter, facebook and the freedom squares of this world? Is it realistic (and even desireable) that they fast track the real world network development that their opponents had decades to establish? Will there be a point in the future where we will learn to turns online masses into well structured movements quickly? Or would that be against the core beliefs of too many of the online activists and would you destroy the movement by trying to structure it? And, if demonstrating on the square got you a revolution, but didn’t make you win an election – is going back to the sqare alone going to get you what you want for the next step?

What is a link?

  • giving money,

    Are you connected by sausage links? (copyright by stevendepolo on Flickr)

  • giving advice,
  • loving,
  • hating,
  • being family member of,
  • killing,
  • torturing,
  • gossiping about,
  • putting pressure on,
  • giving flowers to,
  • trading with,
  • bribing,
  • being friends with,
  • supporting,
  • giving information to,
  • having conflict with,
  • having formal authority over,
  • trusting,
  • collaborating,
  • lobbying,
  • competing with,
  • knowing,
  • sending emails to,
  • having illicit affair with,
  • committing crimes together…

There are so many different ways in which actors can be connected. Most network analysis studies that I see just look at one kind of link. Often this is even as generic as claiming that one actor is “connected” to the other. Which, see above, can mean a lot of different things. When I map networks I like looking at the tension between the different kinds of connections between people. A classic one would be looking at how formal hierarchies and family connections impact on the influence of actors on policy outcomes. I have found that very often in Net-Mapping we revert to a number of standard links: Formal authority, formal money flows, flows of information and something like giving advice, lobbying or putting pressure on others. But I have also found that sometimes choosing unusual links, such as “who tortures whom?” can be very insightful (hopefully that is not the case at your office…). Also, combining links of very different kinds can help you get new insights about a system: When talking about preventing HIV, how about adding a material flow, instead of just asking how the information flows throught the system, follow the flow of condoms as well and find out whether they reach those who have gotten the information they need that makes them want to use condoms. Also, adding a negative linke, such as conflict, can add new insights and help you be more strategic. The is no “right” kind of link you absolutely have to ask about, in any study I could come up with, if not hundreds, at least ten different kinds of links that make a lot of sense. The right links to look at are those that will give you unexpected insights. And if you are looking at more than one kind of link at a time, make them as different from each other as possible.